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Rights group sues U.S. for "targeted killing" memos

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Justice department should be required to disclose the legal justification for strikes that have killed U.S. citizens abroad, a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, comes after the dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in September last year.

Awlaki was a suspected al-Qaeda militant. U.S. officials confirmed that a second American, Samir Khan, was also killed in the drone attack. Khan had served as editor of Inspire, a glossy English-language magazine used by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a propaganda and recruitment vehicle.

Reuters reported [nN1E7930RY] last year that American militants like al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior U.S. government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions.

There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House's National Security Council, current and former officials have said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

The ACLU said it filed its lawsuit after requests under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain legal documents were denied.

The lawsuit asked a federal judge to order the agencies to produce any records that may have been generated in order to legally justify the targeted killing of U.S. citizens overseas.

"Despite requests from legal scholars, human rights organizations, members of the media, and elected officials, the U.S. government has not disclosed the process by which it adds names to so-called 'kill lists;' the standards under which it determines which Americans may be put to death; or the evidentiary bases on which it concludes that those standards were satisfied in any particular case," the lawsuit said.

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The New York Times has filed a similar lawsuit. Both cases are before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.

The case is ACLU v. U.S. Dept of Justice et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No.12-0794.

(Reporting By Basil Katz; Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky' Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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